Monday, March 16, 2009

Everybody hates ethanol

Hating Ethanol, by Drew Thornley
Planet Gore, Monday, March 16, 2009

In case you're not up to speed on the boondoggle that is the U.S. corn-ethanol industry, today's Wall Street Journal has a nice status report:

These days, it's routine for businesses to fail, get rescued by the government, and then continue to fail. But ethanol, which survives only because of its iron lung of subsidies and mandates, is a special case. Naturally, the industry is demanding even more government life support.

The ethanol boosters aren't troubled that only a fraction of the 240 million cars and trucks on the road today can run with ethanol blends higher than 10%. It can damage engines and corrode automotive pipes, as well as impair some safety features, especially in older vehicles. It can also overwhelm pollution control systems like catalytic converters. The malfunctions multiply in other products that use gas, such as boats, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, chainsaws, etc.

That possible policy train wreck is uniting almost every other Washington lobby — and talk about strange bedfellows. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Motorcycle Industry Council and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, among others, are opposed, since raising the blend limit will ruin their products. The left-leaning American Lung Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists are opposed too, since it will increase auto emissions. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club agree, on top of growing scientific evidence that corn ethanol provides little or no net reduction in CO2 over the gasoline it displaces.

The biggest losers in this scheme are U.S. oil refiners. Liability for any problems arising from ethanol blending rests with them, because Congress refused to grant legal immunity for selling a product that complies with the mandates that it ordered. The refiners are also set to pay stiff fines for not fulfilling Congress's mandates for second-generation cellulosic ethanol. But the cellulosic ethanol makers themselves already concede that they won't be able to churn out enough of the stuff — 100 million gallons next year, 250 million gallons in 2011 — to meet the targets that Congress wrote two years ago.

So successful but politically unpopular businesses will be punished for not buying a product that does not exist — from companies that haven't yet found a way to succeed despite generous political and taxpayer advantages. The next step is to use cap and trade to make green alternatives look artificially good by comparison. Even then they'll probably still be bottomless money pits.

To recap: Congress and the ethanol lobby argue that if some outcome would be politically nice, it should be mandated (details to follow). Then a new round of market interventions is necessary to fix the economic harm resulting from the previous requirements, while creating more damage in the process. Ethanol is one of the most shameless energy rackets going, in a field with no shortage of competitors.

The US should focus on defending itself, allowing friends and allies to defend themselves and their regions

Squaring the Pentagon, by Doug Bandow
The U.S. government should focus on defending America, allowing friends and allies to defend themselves and their regions.
Cato, Mar 10, 2009

President Barack Obama has unveiled his new budget, which proposes continued increases in military outlays. What for? The United States is spending far too much on the Pentagon.
There is no more important federal role than providing for the common defense. But what is required for defense depends upon circumstances. Military requirements in 1900 differed dramatically from those in 1940 and in 1980. What are the requirements today?

The latest Pentagon budget suggests that the United States is embattled and isolated, its territory threatened and its future imperiled. The Obama administration has proposed a $40 billion (8 percent) hike in military outlays in 2010 to $527.7 billion. (Counting Iraq and Afghanistan will push annual military spending up to around $700 billion.) President Obama plans to continue increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps.

This proposal comes on top of a 75 percent increase in real military outlays under the Bush administration. Today, Washington possesses the world's most sophisticated nuclear arsenal, most powerful air force, most dominating navy and most effective army. America accounts for roughly half of global military outlays. Observes the Cato Institute's Ben Friedman: "Add the wars, nuclear weapons research, veterans, and homeland security, and you get about $750 billion. That is more than six times what China spends, 10 times what Russia spends and 70 times what Iran, North Korea and Syria spend combined."

Nevertheless, Pentagon officials and conservative activists are complaining about defense "cuts" since the new administration has reduced the Pentagon's request for even more money. Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace even contends that the Obama administration is signaling that "the American retreat has begun."

Thus, a mix of officials, lobbyists, and analysts advocate spending a fixed percentage of GDP on the military, irrespective of circumstance. Both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen advocate setting a spending floor of 4 percent of GDP. Marion Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association says the 4 percent floor should be "front and center for any new president's agenda." Former Missouri Senator James Talent has been promoting the same number. The Heritage Foundation calls this the "4% for Freedom Solution." (Baseline spending currently runs 3.7 percent.)

Steven Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments figures that a four percent rule would increase military outlays above current plans by between $1.4 and $1.7 trillion over the next decade. Even that isn't enough money for some uber-hawks. Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson wanted 4.5 percent of GDP. AEI's Gary Schmitt prefers five percent. The Wall Street Journal has editorialized for five to six percent. Former and potential GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee advocated six percent—more than a 50 percent hike over today's levels.

Whatever could justify such increases?

The United States already spends more on the military in real terms than it did during the cold war, even as the very hot Korean and Vietnam Wars raged. America devotes a lower percentage of its GDP to the military, but the U.S. economy is much greater today—six times (adjusting for inflation) as big as at the end of World War II. Total resources for defense are higher today than at any other point in over six decades.

Nevertheless, worries Admiral Mullen: "the four percent floor is . . . really important, given the world we're living in, given the threats that we see out there, the risks that are, in fact, global, not just in the Middle East." Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal believes that we are in what amounts to a new post-Locarno world like that before World War II, as the forces of darkness were gathering. AEI's Frederick Kagan argued that "American inattention to the world in the coming years could lead to a similarly devastating result" like World War II, since "the current international environment is by any comparison more dangerous for the U.S. than the one that led to World War II." Jim Talent contended: "We live in a multipolar world with threats that are highly unpredictable and therefore, taken as a whole, more dangerous than the threats we faced during the cold war." Representative John Shadegg claimed that "Our nation is facing the threat of Radical Islam, the gravest threat to our national security in history."

If these claims are true, then why spend only four percent of GDP on defense? Why not 9.4 percent, as during the Vietnam War? Or 14.2 percent, as during the Korean War? Or 37.8 percent, as during World War II? Or even more? After all, we can never be too safe.

The reason why not is simple. These apocalyptic claims are absurd.

There is no longer a Nazi Germany or imperial Japan. Nor even a fascist Italy. There is no more Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact. There is no longer an ideologically-aggressive Communist China allied with the Soviet Union. The patchwork of Third World states backed by the Soviet Union has dissolved. As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, there is no there there in terms of traditional military threats.

At the same time, Washington spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined on our military. Sure, some small or poor states devote a larger percentage of their limited resources to defense, but their total outlays remain minuscule compared to those of America. That's not all, however. The United States is allied with every major industrialized state save China and Russia. America and other NATO members together account for about $1.05 trillion out of $1.470 trillion in world military expenditures. Adding Japan, South Korea, and Australia take the allied up to $1.15 trillion.

Nevertheless, when running for president Rudy Giuliani opined: "The idea of a post-Cold War 'peace dividend' was a serious mistake—the product of wishful thinking and the opposite of true realism." The Washington Examiner worries that "potential adversaries rapidly are ramping up their militaries."

Precisely who?

America's relationship with Moscow and Beijing is civil, if sometimes difficult. Even if one assumes greater hostility not today evident, the United States vastly outranges both militarily. America's defense expenditures—not counting spending for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars—run at least four times and as much as seven times as much as each of their outlays (for which estimates vary). America has eleven carrier groups, while Russia has one and China has none. Moscow has a nuclear force sufficient to deter U.S. military action, but little conventional capability beyond its own borders. Russia can beat up neighboring Georgia, but not threaten the United States.

Beijing is investing more in the military, but is starting with a far lower base and still spending far less. If the People's Republic of China (PRC) wants to overtake Washington as a global power, the PRC will have to spend more than America for years. What China is doing today is creating a defensive force capable of deterring U.S. intervention, not an offensive force capable of attacking America. And even as China grows economically, it will remain well behind the United States in wealth. America's per capita GDP last year was $48,000. That of China was $6,100. The PRC is in no position to match, let alone overtake, America, in the foreseeable future.

Moreover, Russia's and China's neighbors, most of whom are close friends of Washington, could do much more if necessary: America's allies account for about three-quarters of world GDP, and the number goes higher when one includes friendly states like India. The European Union's GDP alone is thirteen times as great as that of Russia.

Japan's economy remains roughly as large as that of the PRC (estimates differ). Still, China has a greater prospect than Russia of becoming regionally dominant. But Beijing is surrounded by countries with which it has fought wars: Russia, Japan, India and Vietnam. Further, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and ASEAN states have created or could create militaries capable of deterring Chinese adventurism. Beijing would have to undertake a dramatic military build-up to overwhelm Washington's East Asian friends, let alone threaten America's territory.

Could circumstances change in five, ten or twenty years? Yes, but it makes no sense for the United States to waste money today dealing with unlikely scenarios which, even if they occurred, could be dealt with less expensively in the future. America will be stronger and better prepared to face future challenges if it husbands its resources and encourages economic growth today. The United States should work to defuse, not exacerbate conflict. For instance, philosophical distaste for Vladimir Putin's Russia is no reason to turn it into a military adversary.

If not China and Russia, then who threatens America? Washington has forged better ties with India and has no serious conflicts with other emerging powers, such as Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa. America's presumed enemies are few and pitiful: North Korea, Iran, Cuba. Maybe Burma and Venezuela. Toss in Sudan and Somalia, as if the latter actually existed as a nation. Stretch to include Syria. This disparate group is no replacement for the Axis alliance or Soviet empire.

None of these countries actually endangers the United States. Nasty actors, yes, but with very limited ambitions and abilities. Writes Friedman, "North Korea and Iran trouble their citizens and neighbors, but with decaying economies, shoddy militaries, and aversion to suicidal behavior, they pose little threat to the United States."

Only North Korea has a serious military, but it is directed at the Republic of Korea (ROK), not the United States. The ROK is a long-time friend, but can defend itself. With 40 times the GDP, twice the population, a vast technological edge and far more international friends, including the North's old allies Beijing and Moscow, South Korea no longer needs America's help.

Iran doesn't even threaten U.S. allies. Tehran remains far away from developing actual nuclear weapons, is surrounded by potential adversaries and faces Israel, which is a regional superpower with a sizable nuclear arsenal. The other hostile states are militarily irrelevant—brutal towards their own people, but unable to harm anyone else.

Washington is not without serious security concerns, most obviously terrorism. However, carrier groups and armored divisions are largely irrelevant to this issue. Better intelligence, improved allied cooperation and expanded special forces are far more useful tools. Indeed, military involvement itself encourages terrorism: intervening in the Lebanese civil war, placing a garrison on Saudi territory and sending the USS Cole to Yemen all helped spark terrorist attacks. So did the occupation of Iraq. In these and other cases, a smaller and less active military would have done more to reduce terrorism.

Washington should spend heavily, if necessary, to safeguard America's population, territory, constitutional system and liberties. But this mission cannot explain Washington's current military outlays. Observes Richard Betts of Columbia University,

such levels cannot be justified based on any actual threats that the U.S. armed forces might plausibly be expected to encounter. The military capabilities of the United States need to be kept comfortably superior to those of present and potential enemies. But they should be measured relatively, against those enemies' capabilities, and not against the limits of what is technologically possible or based on some vague urge to have more.

Today most U.S. military outlays are directed at offense, not defense, to underwrite populous and prosperous allies and remake failed societies. This is why defense expenditures are seen by some as "inadequate." Military spending is the price of one's foreign policy, and it is expensive to attempt to micromanage world affairs. Thus, Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute correctly complains of "the large and long-standing gap between U.S. strategy and military resources." But he is wrong to assume that promiscuous intervention is Washington's only policy option.

How should America decide how much to spend on the military? Steven Kosiak writes:

considering the range of military threats and challenges the country faces, and determining the strategy, forces and capabilities needed to counter those challenges and advance U.S. interests, at an acceptable level of risk—as well as at an acceptable cost, in terms of other national priorities (including everything from homeland security to health care).

By this standard, military expenditures should come down substantially. The point is not that Washington cannot afford to be a global cop and social engineer, though the economic crisis—with the collapse in private asset values and explosion of federal debt—has made such a policy much more difficult. But it is not in America's interest to devote so much of its resources to activities with so little relevance to American security. The U.S. government should focus on defending America, allowing friends and allies to defend themselves and their regions.

If spending as much as the rest of the world on the military isn't enough, how much is? If accounting for nearly 80 percent of world military outlays isn't enough for the United States and its allies, how much is? America is by far the most powerful nation on earth. What the United States needs is not a bigger military budget, but a more restrained foreign policy. That is, a foreign policy befitting a democratic republic.

A Dialogue With Lebanon's Ayatollah, Muhammad Hussein Fadhlullah

A Dialogue With Lebanon's Ayatollah. By Robert L Pollock
WSJ, Beirut, Mar 16, 2009, page A7

'I have not found in the whole long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict even one neutral American position. We used to love America in the region in the '40s. [President Woodrow] Wilson's principles [of national self-determination] represent freedom facing a Europe that was colonizing us. But America now is living a policy worse than that of British and French colonialism."

So said Muhammad Hussein Fadhlullah early one morning last week, and I suppose I should not have been surprised.

We met in a nondescript -- but heavily guarded -- office building in south Beirut. On my way there I had noticed, as in the Bekaa Valley a day earlier, numerous posters celebrating Hezbollah "martyrs." According to many, the Grand Ayatollah Fadhlullah is Hezbollah's spiritual leader. He is not actually a member of the famous Lebanese Shiite organization headed by Hassan Nasrallah. But his interpreter tells me the Israelis bombed his house during their 2006 air campaign in Lebanon. There is no doubt someone -- the CIA and the Saudis, according to a detailed account in Bob Woodward's book "Veil" -- targeted him in 1985, when a massive bomb aimed in his direction killed nearly 80 civilians in Beirut.

That, readers may recall, was not long after alleged Hezbollah suicide bombers directed by the late Imad Mugniyeh -- one of the "martyrs" celebrated in the posters -- murdered hundreds at the American Embassy and Marine barracks. And it was in the midst of the hostage crises that would define Lebanon in the minds of my own generation of Americans. Outside of the Iranian theocrats, no group did more than Hezbollah to associate Shiism, once known for its political quietism, with radicalism and terror.

And what of Mr. Fadhlullah today? The aging cleric (born 1935), sports the requisite black turban and a disarming twinkle in his eyes. He is often described as a "progressive" religious thinker because of views such as his egalitarian outlook on the role of women in Muslim society (he is online at Yet there can be little doubt the Ayatollah's views have also shaped, and been shaped by, the fragile and often violent country he has called home since the mid-1960s.

The Lebanese-born scholar Fouad Ajami draws my attention to Mr. Fadhlullah's preface to the 1984 edition of his book, "Islam and the Logic of Force": "Civilization does not mean that you face a rocket with a stick or a jet-fighter with a kite, or a warship with a sailboat. . . . One must face force with equal or superior force. If it is legitimate to defend self and land and destiny, then all means of self-defense are legitimate."

I decide to start our interview by asking what people mean when they describe him in "progressive" terms. "When man thinks," he tells me, "he should live in his own age, not think through the past . . . When I am in dialogue with anyone, I attempt to study their mind and to speak to them in the language of their mind, not to address them in the way I think but rather in the way they think. On this basis we begin this dialogue with you."

Mr. Fadhlullah tells me that though he is originally Lebanese, he was born in Najaf, Iraq, where his father was a teacher at the Hawza, or religious seminary, from which he would eventually earn his current distinction. (He holds the same rank as Iraq's Ali Sistani; Shiites recognize a small number of "grand ayatollahs" who issue religious rulings known as fatwas and serve as objects of "emulation.") He says his international upbringing shaped his way of thinking.

I ask if he thinks Iraq is better off now than it was under Saddam. Iraq had a problem with "dictatorship," he concedes. But this "dictatorship had a relationship with the former American administration," he says, pointing to Saddam's invasion of Iran and other actions that allegedly "serv[ed] the American strategy . . . Saddam Hussein was an employee of the CIA but his job was finished by the end." He accuses the Bush administration of pursuing a policy of "constructive chaos" during the occupation.

Mr. Fadhlullah's fellow Shiite scholars in Najaf have been heard to complain about such sour pronouncements, but I see no reason to belabor the point. There is a rivalry of sorts with Mr. Sistani. And when it comes to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon -- the country shook off Syrian occupation in 2005, some say inspired by Iraq -- Mr. Fadhlullah even points to the West as a good example:

"We hope that that the elections will be as free as in civilized nations. Our problem in the Arab world is that people fear their rulers and therefore fall short of changing them, whereas the natural course of things is that rulers should fear their peoples. . . . We appreciate the way elections are run in America or the West; the Americans or the Europeans are not frozen over one personality. They study the success or failure of this president or this administration, and therefore they change it from time to time."

I point out that many people associate political Shiism with Iran and a concept known as Welayat al-Faqih -- or Guardianship of the Jurist -- which has been used to justify the authoritarian regimes of the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khameini.

"I don't believe that Welayat al-Faqih has any role in Lebanon," Mr. Fadhlullah says without hesitation. "Perhaps some Lebanese commit themselves to the policy of the Guardian Jurist, as some of them commit themselves to the policy of the Vatican [Lebanon's large Maronite community is Catholic]. My opinion is that I don't see the Guardianship of the Jurist as the definitive Islamic regime."

When a Muslim goes to vote should he care more about a cleric's opinion than anyone else's?
"He should care about his own stance . . . . The Islamic idea says: When you cast your ballot, you have to watch for God because God will hold you responsible for the results of this ballot. If the person you voted for was unjust, God will hold you accountable for participating in his injustice. . . . Hence, the Americans who voted for George Bush are responsible for all the blood shed in his wars and occupations."

That seems as good an opening as any to broach the subject of Hezbollah. Does he think it's healthy that Lebanon's Shiites are increasingly associated with such a party?

His answer, in effect, is that Hezbollah is a force for modernization: "Hezbollah is a group of Shiites who are university educated. We know that you will find at universities, whether here in Lebanon or in the West, many who agree with the thought of Hezbollah." True enough, at least as concerns attitudes toward Israel.

Then the answer gets more interesting: "We do not reject the West. But we disagree with some Western administrations. We believe that America is not the administration ruling America. America is rather the universities, the research centers and the American people. That is why we want to be friends with the American people with all their variation. I was the first Islamic figure to denounce what happened on September 11. I issued a press release after four hours saying that this affair is not acceptable by any mind, divine law or religion. What these people did was directed to the American people not to the American administration."

I can't help but interject. Hadn't he just told me the American people were in fact responsible for the actions of the leaders they voted for?

He responds that the people bear "a responsibility," but concedes they can't predict their leaders' future actions. "What I am trying to say," he continues, "is that perhaps we want to be friends with the American people to engage them in a dialogue about their choices as they engage in a dialogue about our choices. Friendship does not mean adhering to whatever your friend commits to and does. Dialogue strengthens friendship; it does not annul it."

What does the Ayatollah think of President Obama? Does he think he might improve relations between the Islamic world and the United States?

Again, an interesting answer: "I think that some of his statements show that he believes in the method of dialogue. But here is an important point: America is not ruled by a person, it is ruled by institutions. The question is what is the influence of institutions like the Congress and others on the president. Can the president, if he has private opinions, can he carry them out facing institutions and conditions challenging the administration? We, in the Arab countries or in the East, we don't have institutions. The ruler is one person or one family. Therefore the people cannot object.

"We wish that President Obama tries with all his mandate to confirm the slogans he launched while still a candidate, that he tries with all power to make the world a field of dialogue not a field of war. We don't have a problem with any American president, but our problem is with his policy that might affect our strategic interest. We love freedom, therefore we are with whoever lives with us on the basis that we are free."

But didn't George Bush say that he wanted to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East? Was he not sincere in those words?

"Does occupation . . . ?" He pauses. "Could democracy be forced upon peoples? Does occupation represent a title of democracy for people? Democracy sets out from the free choices of peoples. Therefore President Bush managed to get America hated everywhere in the world. His policy was the mentality of war, not a humane mentality. He might have spoken about 'peace,' but he saved 'war' inside the word 'peace.' That is why he was even rejected by American public opinion."

I raise Hezbollah again. Does the Iranian-backed group have Lebanon's best interests at heart? Or does it have ambitions outside Lebanon? For whom is it working?

"I don't think that the Lebanese Hezbollah has a project beyond Lebanon. Because it does not have the capacity to do so . . . . Hezbollah emerged in Lebanon as a reaction to the recurrent Israeli aggression over decades. The Lebanese army is weak with regard to its power of deterrence. Therefore it cannot face any Israeli aggression. Hezbollah is supplementary to the Lebanese Army defending the country. If the Lebanese Army reaches a level of strength enabling it to defend the country, there would be no longer a need for the resistance."

And what about the posters, I ask? Imad Mugniyeh didn't just fight Israel, he killed a lot of Americans. Does he think the children of the neighborhood should look at the posters and think Mugniyeh is a hero?

"I think that the stage Lebanon lived [when the Americans were killed] was one without clear limitations. It is very natural that the American policy was interconnected with the Israeli policy. The stage when this took place was one of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West. Therefore the issue was not setting out from a person, but from the conflict between the East and the West, and through the political and security anarchy in Lebanon. In my own belief, this stage is no longer existent, but the problem remains that the American policy is 100% identical to the Israeli policy. We have not found an American position condemning the massacres in Palestine and particularly in Gaza. The missiles launched by the resistance were a reaction to the Israeli aggressors, who own American fighter jets that are never used but in massive warfare . . . .

"We in the region therefore consider the American policy responsible for whatever Israel does, because there is a strategic alliance between Israel and America in all the aggressions carried out by Israel. There is an impression in the Arab region, that might be controversial, that Israel is the one ruling the United States and not the other way around. America is one of the Jewish colonies."

Does the Ayatollah believe that?

"I am close," he says. "Anyway, we believe that Obama lived in a poor and disadvantaged environment. He was poor. Therefore, we might listen to some of his statements trying to alleviate taxes on the poor and impose them on the rich. We say to him: Be with the disadvantaged, be with the poor, be with the people living and seeking their humanity, and you will be the best American president in history. Be humane."

The interview is over. We pose for pictures and the Ayatollah presents me with an English translation of one of his books: "Islam: The Religion of Dialogue." He signs it for me in Arabic: "With my affection and prayers."

Mr. Pollock is the Journal's editorial features editor.

Why the GOP Can't Win With Minorities

Why the GOP Can't Win With Minorities. By Shelby Steele
WSJ, Mar 16, 2009

Today conservatism is stigmatized in our culture as an antiminority political philosophy. In certain quarters, conservatism is simply racism by another name. And minorities who openly identify themselves as conservatives are still novelties, fish out of water.

Yet there is now the feeling that without an appeal to minorities, conservatism is at risk of marginalization. The recent election revealed a Republican Party -- largely white, male and Southern -- seemingly on its way to becoming a "regional" party. Still, an appeal targeted just at minorities -- reeking as it surely would of identity politics -- is anathema to most conservatives. Can't it be assumed, they would argue, that support of classic principles -- individual freedom and equality under the law -- constitutes support of minorities? And, given the fact that blacks and Hispanics often poll more conservatively than whites on most social issues, shouldn't there be an easy simpatico between these minorities and political conservatism?

But of course the reverse is true. There is an abiding alienation between the two -- an alienation that I believe is the great new challenge for both modern conservatism and formerly oppressed minorities. Oddly, each now needs the other to evolve.

Yet why this alienation to begin with? Can it be overcome?

I think it began in a very specific cultural circumstance: the dramatic loss of moral authority that America suffered in the 1960s after openly acknowledging its long mistreatment of blacks and other minorities. Societies have moral accountability, and they cannot admit to persecuting a race of people for four centuries without losing considerable moral legitimacy. Such a confession -- honorable as it may be -- virtually calls out challenges to authority. And in the 1960s challenges emerged from everywhere -- middle-class white kids rioted for "Free Speech" at Berkeley, black riots decimated inner cities across the country, and violent antiwar protests were ubiquitous. America suddenly needed a conspicuous display of moral authority in order to defend the legitimacy of its institutions against relentless challenge.

This was the circumstance that opened a new formula for power in American politics: redemption. If you could at least seem to redeem America of its past sins, you could win enough moral authority to claim real political power. Lyndon Johnson devastated Barry Goldwater because -- among other reasons -- he seemed bent on redeeming America of its shameful racist past, while Goldwater's puritanical libertarianism precluded his even supporting the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Johnson's Great Society grandly advertised a new American racial innocence. If it utterly failed to "end poverty in our time," it succeeded -- through a great display of generosity toward minorities and the poor -- in recovering enough moral authority to see the government through the inexorable challenges of the '60s.

When redemption became a term of power, "redemptive liberalism" was born -- a new activist liberalism that gave itself a "redemptive" profile by focusing on social engineering rather than liberalism's classic focus on individual freedom. In the '60s there was no time to allow individual freedom to render up the social good. Redemptive liberalism would proactively engineer the good. Name a good like "integration," and then engineer it into being through a draconian regimen of school busing. If the busing did profound damage to public education in America, it gave liberals the right to say, "At least we did something!" In other words, we are activists against America's old sin of segregation. Activism is moral authority in redemptive liberalism.

But conservatism sees moral authority more in a discipline of principles than in activism. It sees ideas of the good like "diversity" as mere pretext for the social engineering that always leads to unintended and oppressive consequences. Conservatism would enforce the principles that ensure individual freedom, and then allow "the good" to happen by "invisible hand."

And here is conservatism's great problem with minorities. In an era when even failed moral activism is redemptive -- and thus a source of moral authority and power -- conservatism stands flat-footed with only discipline to offer. It has only an invisible hand to compete with the activism of the left. So conservatism has no way to show itself redeemed of America's bigoted past, no way like the Great Society to engineer a grand display of its innocence, and no way to show deference to minorities for the oppression they endured. Thus it seems to be in league with that oppression.

Added to this, American minorities of color -- especially blacks -- are often born into grievance-focused identities. The idea of grievance will seem to define them in some eternal way, and it will link them atavistically to a community of loved ones. To separate from grievance -- to say simply that one is no longer racially aggrieved -- will surely feel like an act of betrayal that threatens to cut one off from community, family and history. So, paradoxically, a certain chauvinism develops around one's sense of grievance. Today the feeling of being aggrieved by American bigotry is far more a matter of identity than of actual aggrievement.

And this identity calls minorities to an anticonservative orientation to American politics. It makes for an almost ancestral resistance to conservatism. One's identity of grievance is flattered by the moral activism of the left and offended by the invisible hand of the right. Minorities feel they were saved from oppression by the left's activism, not by the right's discipline. The truth doesn't matter much here (in fact it took both activism and principle, civil war and social movement, to end this oppression). But activism indicates moral anguish in whites, and so it constitutes the witness minorities crave. They feel seen, understood. With the invisible hand the special case of their suffering doesn't count for much, and they go without witness.

So here stands contemporary American conservatism amidst its cultural liabilities and, now, its electoral failures -- with no mechanism to redeem America of its shames, atavistically resisted by minorities, and vulnerable to stigmatization as a bigoted and imperialistic political orientation. Today's liberalism may stand on decades of failed ideas, but it is failure in the name of American redemption. It remains competitive with -- even ascendant over -- conservatism because it addresses America's moral accountability to its past with moral activism. This is the left's great power, and a good part of the reason Barack Obama is now the president of the United States. No matter his failures -- or the fruitlessness of his extravagant and scatter-gun governmental activism -- he redeems America of an ugly past. How does conservatism compete with this?

The first impulse is to moderate. With "compassionate conservatism" and "affirmative access" and "faith-based initiatives," President George W. Bush tried to show a redemptive conservatism that could be activist against the legacy of America's disgraceful past. And it worked electorally by moderating the image of conservatives as uncaring disciplinarians. But in the end it was only a marketer's ploy -- a shrewd advertisement with no actual product to sell.

What drew me to conservatism years ago was the fact that it gave discipline a slightly higher status than virtue. This meant it could not be subverted by passing notions of the good. It could be above moral vanity. And so it made no special promises to me as a minority. It neglected me in every way except as a human being who wanted freedom. Until my encounter with conservatism I had only known the racial determinism of segregation on the one hand and of white liberalism on the other -- two varieties of white supremacy in which I could only be dependent and inferior.

The appeal of conservatism is the mutuality it asserts between individual and political freedom, its beautiful idea of a free man in a free society. And it offers minorities the one thing they can never get from liberalism: human rather than racial dignity. I always secretly loved Malcolm X more than Martin Luther King Jr. because Malcolm wanted a fuller human dignity for blacks -- one independent of white moral wrestling. In a liberalism that wants to redeem the nation of its past, minorities can only be ciphers in white struggles of conscience.

Liberalism's glamour follows from its promise of a new American innocence. But the appeal of conservatism is relief from this supercilious idea. Innocence is not possible for America. This nation did what it did. And conservatism's appeal is that it does not bank on the recovery of lost innocence. It seeks the discipline of ordinary people rather than the virtuousness of extraordinary people. The challenge for conservatives today is simply self-acceptance, and even a little pride in the way we flail away at problems with an invisible hand.

Mr. Steele is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

WaPo: Gay couples should be allowed to stay together in the US

Separation Anxiety. WaPo Editorial
Gay couples should be allowed to stay together in the United States.
Monday, March 16, 2009; A16

THE UNITING American Families Act would allow gay and lesbian Americans and permanent residents to sponsor their foreign-born partners for legal residency in the United States. The bill, introduced last month in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and in the House by Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), would add "permanent partner" and "permanent partnership" after the words "spouse" and "marriage" in relevant sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act. If passed, it would right a gross unfairness.

Under the proposal, a "permanent partnership" is defined as a "committed, intimate relationship" with another adult "in which both parties intend a lifelong commitment." The couple must be financially interdependent and not married to or in a permanent partnership with anyone else. And the partners can't be related. The benefit comes with the same immigration restrictions and enforcement standards that apply to heterosexual couples. Fraudulent permanent partnerships face the same penalties as fake marriages: up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

"Under current law, committed same-sex foreign partners of American citizens are unable to use the family immigration system, which accounts for a majority of the green cards and immigrant visas granted annually by the United States," Mr. Leahy said upon introducing the bill. "The promotion of family unity has long been part of federal immigration policy, and we should honor that principle by providing all Americans the opportunity to be with their loved ones." According to the most recent census, he added, about 35,000 binational, same-sex couples are living in the United States. The new legislation would ensure that the family connections valued under immigration law are extended to gays and lesbians.

The strain of the status quo on gay and lesbian binational couples should not be discounted. Because their relationships are not legally recognized by the United States, some couples have resorted to illegal marriages where the foreign nationals marry Americans to get green cards that allow them to stay in the country permanently. In other cases, Americans have exiled themselves to be with their partners. Sixteen countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United Kingdom, allow residents to sponsor same-sex permanent partners for legal immigration. American gays and lesbians should not have to choose between their country and their partners.

Are depressions “green”?

Are depressions “green”?, by Marlo Lewis
Master Resource, March 16, 2009

Cambridge University economist Dr. Terry Barker told delegates at the recent Copenhagen climate conference that if the current economic downturn persists for several years, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide could drop by 40% to 50%, the Irish Times reports.

Dr. Barker, who is director of the Cambridge Center for Climate Research, said the Great Depression of the 1930s reduced global emissions by 35% because so many factories shut down, especially in the United States. He adds:

The depression could be worse this time because of globalization. Emissions in the U.S. fell by 3 per cent last year and could fall by 10 to 20 per cent this year because the economy is dropping like a stone with up to 600,000 a month becoming unemployed.

The former Soviet Union provides additional proof of the emission-cutting power of economic collapse. In CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion Highlights (2005 Edition), the International Energy Agency reports the following emission reductions during 1990-2003: Bulgaria, 38%; Estonia, 35.3%, Latvia, 52.3%, Lithuania, 43.5%, Romania, 43.3%; Russia, 24.5%, Slovak Republic, 30.2%; and Ukraine, 50.1%.

So clearly, governments do have the power to achieve deep emission cuts in in a single decade or even in a few years. However, there’s not a shred of historical evidence that they can do this without first engineering severe economic contractions.

You might suppose Dr. Barker would worry that, if depressions produce deep emission cuts, then maybe mandating deep emission cuts would produce or prolong depressions, by making energy unaffordable.

But no, Barker reportedly views the current depression as a golden opportunity to launch a “Green New Deal.” He opines that, ”Even very stringent reductions in emissions can create a macroeconomic benefit, if governments go about it the right way.” This is but a green variant of the fatal conceit that elites know better than markets how to direct economic development. Government interventions in credit and housing markets are the root cause of the ongoing financial crisis. Yet instead of humbling would-be central planners, each policy disaster just seems to feed their hubris.

You hear Barker’s message all the time. The revenues from carbon permit auctions or carbon taxes will be used to lower taxes on capital and labor, and fund R&D, making us more prosperous and competitive.

But if taxes on labor and capital are too high (they are), that’s an argument for cutting those taxes, not for imposing new or higher taxes on energy. So-called green industries and jobs were bit players even when the economy was booming. That’s because even when credit markets were flush and fossil energy prices were high, green industries were relatively unproductive. For example, as my colleague Iain Murray estimates, one coal-industry job supports seven times as much electricity as one wind-industry job.

It strains credulity to claim that diverting capital and labor from, e.g., the coal industry to the wind industry will create a macroeconomic benefit, or that economy recovery can be built on jobs and industries that depended heavily on subsidies, tax preferences, and mandates even in prosperous times.